Romans 13:8-14 - English Standard Version (ESV)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,to gratify its desires.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This weekend is the first weekend in Advent, the four-week long season where Christians busy ourselves with repentance and prayer in preparation for the Lord’s coming. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The Church of Christ bears witness to the end of all things. It lives from the end, it thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.” Today’s theme is all about the end: the second coming of Christ. Advent, derived from the Latin verb “to come,” culminates with the first coming of Christ on Christmas Day, the day when the kingdom of light broke into our world of darkness. For now, we also wait for His second coming, the day when the kingdom of light will swallow up the darkness once and for all. Living in a time between the two advents of Christ puts us in a very peculiar place. Bonhoeffer said, “Within the old world the Church speaks of the new world.” This tension of living between the inauguration of the Kingdom and it’s consummation is what we Lutherans call the “now/not yet.”
The reign of God is here now; it came at the birth of Christ. However, it is not yet fully realized and won’t be until Christ returns. This is where the whole, “being in the world, but not of the world,” comes about. This tension is both a blessing and a frustration. It is a blessing because we are no longer waiting for God’s salvation. We know that we have been saved through Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that He overcame sin, death, and the power of the devil. Yet it is a frustration because we still live in a world consumed by sin…death…and the power of the devil. What makes it even more frustrating is how confusing this can be to a Christian. Often, Christians walk around unsure of the kingdom because they see sin, death and the power of the devil all around them. Often, they are unsure of their own salvation because they themselves live lives immersed in sin. What doesn’t help is when they read texts like, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law,” and “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law,” and “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” All of these sound like commands that we must obey in order to be saved.
When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are incapable of following these commands, and Paul’s words lay heavy on our heart. When we think this way, we unfortunately miss some things that are quite important. First, we must remember who Paul was. Paul, before writing this very letter, persecuted Christians relentlessly and was responsible for many of their deaths. After his miraculous conversion, God told Ananias to go to Paul and to heal him, and Ananias responded by saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Paul, this very same Paul who zealously killed Christians in the name of the Law, is the same one who is writing about how loving and doing no wrong to your neighbor fulfills that very same Law.
Yet his past did not cause him to loose hope in his salvation. Even his present struggles did not cause him to falter. Earlier in Romans Paul admits that he does not understand his own actions because although he wants to do good he persists in doing what is evil. Because he wants to do what is good he agrees that the law is good, but the sin within his flesh prevents him from doing it. This war between his will and his flesh is his reality, it is our reality too, at least while we remain in the “now/not yet.” The question becomes though, why does Paul, the one who calls himself the chief of sinners, never give up hope in his salvation?
Here is the other important thing, it is because He knows that not only is God’s kingdom already here, but that his place in it is secure, for it is by faith alone that we are saved. So when Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the Law, He is not telling you that you must love in order to fulfill the Law. He is telling you that the Law has already been fulfilled for you. Christ’s love freed us from the bondage of sin, death and the power of the devil, and it is only through Him that we receive our salvation. That is why Paul says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” It is only though Christ that we are given the freedom to live as members in His kingdom of light while also living in this present darkness.
In the explanation to the Lord’s Prayer, the Small Catechism teaches us that when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, it is not our prayers that cause this to happen. Instead, we pray in those petitions that God would give us the Holy Spirit so that we believe His Word and lead godly lives both here in time and there in eternity. We pray that He breaks and hinders the plans of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which try to destroy our faith in Christ Jesus. We pray that He strengthens us and keeps us firm in His Word and faith and helps us lead God-pleasing lives.
It is for this reason that Paul declares, “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” By walking properly we do not earn salvation for ourselves, but by the power of His Holy Spirit when we live a life of faith we do participate in God’s kingdom and bring His light to others. For, “The Church of Christ bears witness to the kingdom of God. It lives from the kingdom of God, it thinks from the kingdom of God, it acts from the kingdom of God, it proclaims its message from the kingdom of God.” So while we wait for Christ’s return, we can take hope in this darkness, for the kingdom of light is already here.
For it is not an earthly kingdom; no, it is far greater. It is a kingdom of power, as it knows no limits or boundaries, and the Creator of all things has given Christ the King all power in heaven and on earth. It is a kingdom of grace existing within each believer as Christ rules from their hearts, and it is established and governed by God’s Word and maintained through His sacraments. And it is a kingdom of glory, where all believers will be crowned in honor and glory either at their death or at Christ’s second coming. “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.